Hercules, c. 1496-1497. Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528). Woodcut; platemark: 39.1 x 28.5 cm (15 3/8 x 11 1/4 in.). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of The Print Club of Cleveland 1926.107
Even though Dürer entitled this work Ercules, the narrative of the representation remains highly debated. The most recent interpretation suggests that Dürer adapted the scene from an obscure Roman tragedy, one he may have learned through his humanist friends. The story describes how prior to Hercules’ first heroic labor, the goddess Juno incited within him a monstrous rage. This resulted in the killing of a tyrant, seen under Hercules’ left foot, and the murder of his own family, represented here by his frightened wife Megara. A maniacal old woman-a Fury, goddess of vengeance and the embodiment of Hercules’ rage-prepares to assail Megara with an animal jawbone. According to this reading then, women are the source and manifestation of Hercules’ murderous wrath, an obvious contrast to his later heroism.